A Late Quartet ***** 1/2


Yaron Zilberman has written, directed and co-produced an intelligent, moving drama about the intimate and complex relationships of musicians in a string quartet. The plot is centered and structured around Beethoven’s late String Quartet No. 14 in C sharp minor, Opus 131. Zilberman choose Opus 131 for its expression of strong emotions and the requirement that its seven movements be played attaca, without pause. During the almost 40 minutes of playing without a break, the instruments go out of tune and the players have to struggle to adapt individually and as a group—Zilberman’s metaphor for long-term relationships.

The world-famous Fugue String Quartet is preparing for their 25th anniversary concert when the cellist Peter (Christopher Walken), the oldest member and spiritual leader of the quartet, receives a diagnosis that will not only change his life but that of the quartet. Peter’s intent to resign after the anniversary concert leaves the three remaining members with a headache. Daniel (Mark Ivanir), the first violinist, wants Peter to continue but more important he wants to keep his position as lead violinist. Robert (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the second violinist, sees a restructuring of the quartet as a time for Daniel and himself to start rotation of the role of first violinist. Robert’s wife Juliette (Catherine Keener), the violist, can’t support Robert’s wish to play first violin and can’t imagine the quartet without the guiding force of Peter. And so the drama begins: repressed emotions, ego conflicts, betrayal, passion and love. In spite of this backdrop, the ensemble remains together and at the anniversary concert become “one” to create a masterly interpretation of the first movements of Opus 131. The daughter of Robert and Juliette, Alexandra (Imogen Poots) sums up what makes the Fugue such a great quartet: Daniel’s first violin hypnotizes with its precision; Robert’s violin is the emotional element–adding color, texture and rhythm; Juliette’s viola is the instrument that adds depth and emotion while serving three masters; and Peter’s cello is the foundation. But what happens when the lineup changes?

The casting was excellent and all the roles are played to perfection. Zilberman’s goal to make the film as authentic as possible requiring the actors to mimic playing their instruments for short phases was perhaps an overambitious goal. The world-acclaimed Brentano String Quartet plays an exquisite Opus131 for the soundtrack. Angelo Badalamenti composed the touching and beautiful film music.

This movie pays homage to cultural Manhattan. The ambience is sophisticated and congruous. The instruments were chosen for their color and grain, which in turn influenced the general color palette of the film. The musicians are shown in their elegant apartments, at the Frick Collection (a first in film), in the famous recital hall of the Metropolitan Art Museum, at a violin auction at Sotheby’s, and in and around iconic Manhattan.

Zilberman’s love of classical music and art and his meticulous research on string quartets give integrity and beauty to this film. (Carol Strametz)

  • A Late Quartet
  • USA 2012
  • Starts May 2
  • Directed by: Yaron Zilberman
  • Writing credits: Yaron Zilberman
  • Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christopher Walken, Catherine Keener, Mark Ivanir and Imogen Poots
  • Length: 105 minutes